See the incredible pictures that show how these long-suffering animals are now truly living as bears again.
While most bears sleep their way through winter, brown bear Caesar has started major building works on a personal quest for the perfect bed.
Each natural behaviour shown by bears at Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre is cause for celebration. Most are rescued from the bile farm trade where tiny cages and daily extractions meant ursine instincts are all but forgotten.
But now, across the sanctuary, bears are expressing their natural behaviour by sleeping and nesting as temperatures drop.
With many bears going into “winter dormancy” – a kind of semi-hibernation – Animals Asia staff make sure each bear has everything they need to snooze away the season.
Typically this means providing substrate such as leaves for nest building, but staff also provide a few ready-made nests which make attractive beds to most bears.
But once again, brown bear Caesar preferred something a bit more impressive. It seemed only a bespoke boudoir would do for this gentle giant and she quickly began on excavation work.
Animals Asia’s China Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field said:
“As usual, this winter a sense of quietude descended on the sanctuary as most of the bears became increasingly inactive – which made Caesar’s engineering works stand out all the more. She’s been using her giant brown bear claws to dig a sleeping space out of the earth, which is more like a house than a nest.
“It’ll be more work for the team to fill the hole in again after winter, but we would never deny Caesar or any other bear the opportunity to express their instincts like this – this kind of freedom and natural behaviour is a huge part of their welfare.”
It’s all a far cry from the bile farm where Caesar spent her early years – encased in a metal jacket and unable to move as her bile was regularly extracted for use in traditional medicine.
At Animals Asia’s sanctuaries, bears are actively encouraged to enjoy their snoozes. While most bears continue to forage – albeit much more slowly – throughout winter, a few become more dormant.
These sleepiest bears will be put on “winter lock down” in a den. With outdoor spaces shared between groups of up to 20 bears, carers can’t afford to have a sleepy bear conk out on the grass leaving staff unable to maintain the enclosures.
“As much as possible we try and allow the bears to fulfil their wintering behaviour in the enclosures. But the sleepiest bears can nest down for months providing quite a challenge in terms of cleaning and maintenance. The bears who remain more active still need their daily enrichment so the real sleepers go on winter lock down.
“They cozy up in their den with everything they need to snuggle down, from straw and dried leaves to hessian sacks and anything else they can make nests with.”
“Eleven bears are currently on winter lock down, and we expect more to do so before long. We’ll keep a close eye on all of them and when we see increased signs of sleepiness we’ll set up a den for them. Lie ins are allowed here and every bear has the freedom to be the bear they want to be –in Caesar’s case that seems to mean starting a whole new vocation!”.